A few days ago, a veterinary doctor was gang-raped, smothered and her body burned in Hyderabad. The last communication was with her sister, who she had called on finding out that her scooter had a flat tire. Everyone is outraged about this incident as it reminds us of Nirbhaya, who was gang-raped almost seven years ago in Delhi.
These incidents amongst many are a reason for the annual International campaign: 16 Days of Activism to end Gender-Based Violence. Everyday millions of girls and women are subject to all kinds of violence making it a global pandemic. It is ironic that this year’s focus of the campaign is “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape!”
Teachers and parents must be able to talk to children about rights, consent, respect for each other and build confidence to report violations and fight back.
The UN says violence against women and girls is one of the “most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today.” Approximately 87,000 women and girls were murdered around the world in 2017, most often by someone close to them. It remains largely unreported because of issues including impunity and stigma. In India, even the highly under-reported numbers estimate that every 15 minutes a woman is raped. So it is no wonder that last year the Thomson Reuters perception survey listed India as the most dangerous country in the world for women.
Unlike other nations where people are out protesting on streets objecting to violence, in India we are operating as though it is business as usual. The Home Minister of Telangana state actually put the blame on the victim stating she should have called the emergency number 100 instead of her sister. Twitter is abuzz with people demanding for the death penalty for the rapists and stricter laws on sexual violence. As a country we have the death penalty and strict laws, but it does not seem to deter the perpetrators.
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So how do we solve a seemingly insurmountable problem? The answer lies with each of us.
Education: We need education on this issue from a very early age. Teachers and parents must be able to talk to children about rights, consent, respect for each other and build confidence to report violations and fight back. Prevention is better than cure. Yet, there is no curriculum on this topic implemented across the country and many states are reluctant to introduce it into mainstream education. In our work at Safecity , we have found many parents and teachers are often ignorant or reluctant to talk to children about this subject.
Accountability: Sexual violence is a crime. Yet it does not get treated on par with other heinous crimes like for example murder. It impacts self-esteem, confidence, wellbeing and further inhibits women and girls from living a quality life. Therefore, it is critical that every institution make a genuine effort to ensure a safe space for women and girls, whether it is a public or private space.
How many of us actively intervene to stop gender-based violence? How many of us even recognise it when it is happening?
Respect: At the core of sexual violence is a power asymmetry stemming from the fact that women and girls are seen as secondary in importance to men. This is reflected in the atrocious birth rate for the girl child in India where there has always been a trans-generational preference for a son. It is further played out in every section of society where women are excluded and underrepresented, denying them the right to fully participate in society. This must change otherwise the future of the next generations can be perceived as even bleaker.
Justice: The numbers of violations pertaining to gender-based violence are huge. So, if they continue to occur and recur, it means that there exists a severe breakdown in the rule of law. A total overhaul of our policing and justice systems through a democratic transaction is the need of the hour. After all it is a constitutional right for every woman and girl to have equality and safety.
Enforcement: How many of us actively intervene to stop gender-based violence? How many of us even recognise it when it is happening? It has been normalised to such an extent that we have become immune and only get enraged when either it is someone beloved or else an incident so far gone that there is no coming back. We all have a responsibility to demand that our laws are enforced, our police, teachers and other public servants are sensitised to the point that women and girls become bold enough to break this perpetual culture of silence.
If we don’t step up and act now, we will forever be participating in campaigns like “16 Days of Activism”. Let’s make it our mission to end this violence now.
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The views expressed are the author’s own.